Monday, March 9, 2020

Molten Strawberry Tall Cake

 What could be better than a nice slice of strawberry cake? A strawberry cake filled with a cooling, luscious, fruity and tangy cream filling of course!  This recipe is actually a hybrid of the another one I had in the lab, sketches drawn and ingredient list complete and purchased.  The variable that helped to create this spin on a classic, is time.  This was a quicker and lighter version of a cake I had planned for Valentine's Day.  Additionally, I wanted to work on a few skills needed to create an upcoming cake for my daughter Genesis' 14th birthday.  For her special day on the 24th of this month, she requested a 'Cheesecaken' similar to the one I made for my nephew Rob for his January surprise birthday party.  I created a 3 layer cake, Guinness Extra Stout and Butterscotch, with a whole Chocolate Guinness Cheesecake serving as the middle layer.  I made a Guinness Buttercream with Caramel Drip w/ chocolate covered pretzel thins as the topper.  Rob and the family loved the flavor profile and the design, which I was pleased to hear.
 I will be happy to share that recipe as well, stay tuned for the release!  Genesis asked if I could  make her a cake in this style, but she chose Red Velvet Cake and Plain Cheesecake as her flavor preferences.  I agreed, so I decided a little practice before the big event was in order.  As with any busy schedule, sacrifices have to be made, so midway through building my Strawberry Short/Cheesecaken, I had to bail, but I also needed a worthy supplement for what I had already announced would be the star of our dinner party for Vday.  Enter the featured cake for this post.

Rob's Guinness Extra Stout & Butterscotch Chocolate Guinness Cheesecaken

 I decided to play up the strawberry shortcake aspect of the cake, just with a little edge. While staring blankly at the baked layers of strawberry cake, utilizing the strawberry glaze, 2 lbs. fresh strawberries and whipped cream was key.  I then thought of how awesome it would be to have a hidden treasure.  I used a biscuit cutter I fashioned from an empty vegetable can to make a cylinder opening in layers 2 and 3.  Layer 1 would remain whole, to hide the cream center and make 'icing' it easier.  I then blended 1 1b. of fresh sliced strawberries with the glaze and folded in some sour cream for a vibrant tang.  I added a small amount confectioner's sugar to cut the sour cream and marry the flavors.  I spread this between the bottom 2 layers and filled the center.  I frosted the whole thing with whipped topping  and garnished with some glaze and fresh strawberry slices blended.  The results were fantastically familiar and much lighter than the one I'll be making later for my oldest sweet love, Genesis.  The optimal counterpoint for rich dishes is to serve it at events where portions will be such that, by the time it goes around once, it is gone anyway!
The best part about this recipe aside from it's refreshing flavors are the shortcuts.  As much as we would all love to have the time it takes to make everything we give our families from scratch, we can always dress up some items and make them our own.  I used strawberry supreme cake mix, store bought glaze and whipped topping and it saved the day.  Life is hard enough, don't beat yourself up over a little spilled cake mix. 

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Judgy Cereal

Okay, so I saw these cereal at the supermarket on sale, along with some others, so I took advantage of the bargains.  I thought it would be good and a welcome change to the tween and teens, breaking up the monotony that can come with always getting a particular set of cereal when shopping for your kids.  Well, it so happens that Ryan's World™ and Baby Shark™ cereal were the select bargains.  I grabbed a box of each and headed home.
When after school snack time came, I  presented the trio with them as options. Unbeknownst to me, those were "kids cereal" and the brood actually refused to eat them.  The Nerve, Right!? So I find myself pouring the cereal into zip type bags and getting rid of the boxes, so they could come back down to earth and partake.  I ultimately ended up eating most of the cereal, since taking away the boxes was a foiled attempt at "Mother Woman™" magic!
On this particular day, I decided to grab a bowl of cereal, since I like vitamins and minerals too.  I was having my cereal somewhat on auto pilot, going through my mental rolodex of my day's appointments and such, one of which consisted of a trip to my Rheumatology doctor, for my mom also.  For some reason, my glance down to take a bite forced me to linger a bit.  This is when I saw the above image.  I had to laugh at the indifferent expression the cereal literally had on its face.  I knew no one would believe it, so I carefully and gently eased from my seat at the kitchen  table and made my way to my bedroom where my phone was charging.  I managed to keep it as is and was able to capture this photo, luckily I have voice activated photo option.
The face above pretty much sums it up.  I wondered if the cereal was mimicking my usual expression or telling me to 'just get it over with'. I wasn't sure, but it sure did make me laugh trying to figure it out.  Since there was no other way to spare the 'Judgy Cereal', I sentenced it to a quick and tasty end.
Laughter is food for the soul, gorge on it!

Best .Oatmeal .Cookie. Ever.

This is one of my most cherished recipes. I created it in 2012. The book in which it was written, was a gift from my sister Brenda, meant  to house such treasures of this very caliber.  Sometimes, we are afraid to step outside of our comfort zone and open our vulnerabilities to the world, especially when dealing with cooking and what our personal idea of what is "good" really is.  This is one such time, but since I am not yet global per se, I feel the best way to obtain such status, would be to let the world in on one of my best kept secrets.
This recipe was misplaced in my sea of culinary journals and sketches for years.  I ran across it this past summer, luckily because my family had inquired about it for as long as it was missing.  I was advised to keep it to myself, but here we go....
Be advised, this cookie is dangerous. One bite will lead to another, then another, and more. Before you know it, you will be in 3 cookies deep and wondering how the heck you got there. You will bade for time, until you may shamelessly have another.  You will want to give out some as gifts, freeze some, anything to feel better about becoming a cookie monster. Try this recipe if you dare.  I will leave this recipe on my website for a total of 23 days. Why 23? One of my lucky numbers is 23. After the specified time, it will be removed promptly, to return to my personal recipe file, to only be baked by me alone.  I would take advantage of this opportunity if I were you.  Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments section at the bottom of this post. For more exciting and informative  content delivered right to your mailbox, enter your email address and hit the submit button at the top of the desktop version. I'd love to have you join me!

3 c. quick cooking oats
1 c. rice flour
1 1/3 c. cake flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. butter, softened, unsalted
1 large egg
2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. unsulphured molasses
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350*F.
Mix dry ingredients together well in one bowl and in another, cream together butter, egg, molasses, sugar and vanilla.
Incorporate wet ingredients into dry  gradually, in a folding fashion, until evenly blended.
Drop by heaping teaspoons or roll into balls about 1' in diameter and place on a well greased cookie sheet.
Bake until golden, about 13 minutes. For a softer cookie, cut cooking time down to 11 minutes.
Let cool slightly before transferring to wire rack, then cookie vessel.
Makes about 5 1/2 dozen, depending on size.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Orangy Banana Nut Turtles w/ Orange Cream Glaze

March winds blow in  fresh and delicious treats, familiar to many, adored by more.  These muffins  are large enough to share and healthful enough to eat the whole thing by yourself.  They resemble turtles, something I noticed after they had been baked and ready to plate.  Incidentally, I walked past my set of mini tortilla pans on the shelf and It occurred to me, they could serve other purposes.  I have been a long time advocate of making the most of your kitchen aides, as not to wonder later, why you have so many appliances, pans, molds and cocottes that you never use.
 I have used bundt pans to make wonderfully circular meat loaves, with the opening in the middle serving as a bowl, filled with a side dish like mashed potatoes or even vegetable medley.   Using smaller pans also helps to lessen the cooking time.  My mom loved them, that makes me proud.  When I develop recipes, I like to be mindful of the ingredients, they can be discerning, but they trust my ability to deliver.
This recipe started off as a way to use up some bananas. They were perfectly ripe and ready for baking.  These muffins are fantastic for breakfast, lunch, after dinner or snacks. You definitely don't have to have mini tortilla pans, you may use the usual suspects like muffin tins and loaf pans.  The orange flavor is a wonderful complement to the fragrant bananas.  I like to use walnuts in my quick breads and cakes.  I toast them in a hot dry pan before adding to help the flavors bloom, earthier and nuttier . They provide texture and loads of good for you vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other health benefits  like healthy Omega 3's, vitamins C, B6 and other B vitamins, vitamin E, fiber, copper, magnesium, phosphorus and more.  Walnuts are also shown to potentially help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and reduce risks of heart disease.  Plus, they're  good for your brain health. You can go Nuts and feel good about it!

2 c. AP flour, unbleached
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. Himalayan pink salt, fine grain
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted and cooled
 3/4 c. pure cane sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 c. very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. orange flavoring
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. walnuts, toasted and crushed into smaller pieces
zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 350*.
Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and salt) in a medium bowl with a fork, until blended or sift together into bowl.
In another bowl, combine cool melted butter, sugar, eggs,bananas and buttermilk.
Whisk or stir vigorously with wooden spoon until well blended and add orange flavoring, vanilla and zest.
Gradually add flour to wet ingredients, 1/3 at a time, stirring only until its just blended.
Fold in toasted walnut pieces.
Spoon or scoop batter into desired vessel or vessels. I used mini tortilla pans lightly sprayed or greased with neutral flavored oil) to which I added about 1 cup of batter to each. I used 8 mini pans.
Bake until golden and toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 25 minutes, depending on type of oven used. Mine is a convection oven.
While muffins cook, prepare the glaze.
1/4 c. heavy whipping cream
4 tbsp. confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp. orange flavoring
scant pinch of Himalayan pink salt, optional
Combine all ingredients until well mixed and sugar is dissolved.

Once muffins are removed from the oven, brush tops repeatedly until no glaze remains.
Let cool for 15 minutes. Your muffins are ready to be enjoyed.
Remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack before transferring to a storage vessel or zip type bags.
Makes Smiles and Serves Plenty.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

General Store Chicken and Dumplings

I couldn't let this winter pass without posting a few more warm and cozy recipes.  One of the best things about the cooler seasons is the bountiful aromas of slow cooked and sometimes decadent colloquial foods. These tasty morsels can be prepared in a hurry, as in about two hours, others take most of the day. They vary by culture, region, shape, size and ingredients, but dumplings are  enjoyed by the masses, in numerous forms.
 Geographical location seems to dictate the decided form the dumpling should take; long, thin and flat-like or puffy and pillowy orbs.  Research suggests the puffy form is more of an 'up north' thing and the flat more true to its Southern roots.   In actuality, dumplings have been around for centuries, before America was the "land of the free... home of the brave ".  Slaves and other Africans very likely had some influence in its incorporation into our American cooking culture, since they were responsible for the kitchens and structure of cuisine respectively.  Only recently (as in the early part of the last 100 years) had chicken and dumplings become associated with frugality, meagerness and economical fall back. However, that could not be further from the truth.   A dish like this can be dressed up or down, found in the most affluent to the most depraved homes, depending more on the mood, not the money. Just delicious.
Further, in earlier times, chickens were a luxurious commodity; as was cattle, goats, pigs and other livestock, used mainly for its eggs, milks, working the land, transportation, yarn etc...  Meats were not necessarily mandatory for many, too expensive for some.
 On the occasion that one was killed, it was usually old, so cooking it was an arduous task, taking hours, as the rascal was tough and bony, the chickens at least, they were completely free range.
Earlier forms of the dish were undoubtedly more about the dumpling, with the chicken coming in later, more of a side note. I am more familiar with the round, puffed and fluffy shape.  I fashion mine in the shape of a quenelle or football-like. The puffed form is more forgiving and serves as a thickener to the stocky broth that holds the veggies, like kernels of carrot, peas and celery.  If the dumplings come out larger than  initially desired, one simply allows them to cook a little longer and their size will decrease, becoming a part of the soup-like quality of the dish.  Although the dumpling will float quickly, it requires at least 10 to 12 minutes to cook completely, depending on the size of the dumpling of course.
Growing up, there were no recipes passed down per se.  The copy if you will, was to replicate what you'd seen or heard others did before you.  There is no coveted little box with note cards, nor is there some worn, torn and tattered notebook with hues of coffee and tea stains or time worn print, that has stood the test of generational utilization, to flip through carefully, as the pages make a crumpling gift box tissue paper sound.  No arguments here on who the best cook is and who deserves to be the keeper of your grandmother's recipe 'Holy Grail'. For us, they do not exist, at least to the best of my knowledge.
I am from a family where my grandmothers were much older. My father's mother Grandma Lucille, passed away when I was 5, she was born in 1904.  The few memories I have of her consists of the joy she brought to us by finding a quick chore to earn money for the ice cream truck.  I remember she always worn an apron, handmade I'm told. She was partial to Kellogg's Corn Pops, the bright yellow box with red trim sat atop the refrigerator, that observation burns luminously in my mind. Grandma Lucille had fruit trees; pear, apple, peach, as I remember picking up the fallen ones as a chore mentioned earlier.  I bet Gram had a smoking Chicken and Dumpling recipe!  I cannot  ask my dad, as he left to be with Gram and his 3 brothers in 2009. Dad's birthday was the 27th, just passed, Heavenly Happy Birthday to my surrogate brother Floyd(2019), whose birthday was Wednesday, my oldest brother Doug jr.(2007), his birthday was Tuesday. Doug jr. would be 57, Floyd too. Dad would be 82. Alas, I digress. They are dearly missed.
  Sometimes we can substitute ingredients and shave off a step or two, leaving time to expend in another place. The best method is the old fashioned, whole bird way, simmering it with aromatics; onions, celery, garlic, bay leaf and carrot for a flavorful broth on which this dish is built.  The  cooked chicken is removed from the stock and picked from the bones, to be reintroduced later.   I like to cut the breast meat into chunks, and pull the dark meat off in bite sized pieces where possible. For time constraints, boneless chicken breasts may be used, with skin is better, but skinless/boneless as desired.  The bones add body to the broth and a substitute is unlikely to be found.  Store bought broth is ideal for those flavor components. The breast meat should be removed from the stock as soon as it is cooked through, to keep it from becoming rubbery and dry. NO one likes dry chicken.  It may be reintroduced to the stock after the dumplings are cooked.
This recipe is inspired by my hometown and all the beauty and history that it holds for me and my family.  It is an ode to the simple life, with on hand ingredients, made with love.  It is a humble reminder of our ancestral roots, Leesville's historical richness and the revivification of a place we thought we had lost, in particular, Carter's General Store. We have frequented this commemorated and familiar family business, that has been revitalized, after a hiatus of about 7 years.  My family from at least 6 generations back frequented here. They bought their feed, beans, seeds, flour, butter, bait, tackle and other merchandise from this very structure.   It has been refurbished into an amazing and informative bizarre of sorts; chock full of antiques, bejeweled accounts of goings on about and by townsfolk, daily supplies.  Carter's also has a fishing and gaming post, live music entertainment, plus room to hob knob with other locals and passersby alike. I even had my first official book signing for Annie Ware: Adventures in Wordplay here. Last, but certainly not least, get a good ole fashioned signature  Bologna and Hoop Cheese sandwich ( or purchase individually by the pound) cut fresh from their rolls and wheels, cold or grilled, with an ice cold drink and a bag of chips.
 Plus, Carter's General Store offers other specialty goodies like Wagyu burgers, chili dogs, Grilled Hoop Cheese sandwiches, homemade desserts, custom, handmade goods and excellent service.  This store goes way back, just like chicken and dumplings, but good things have a way of hanging around and reinventing themselves, staying relevant, the two share commonality.  Old has become new and our community appreciates its living history, as all of our past familial roads run through it. Welcome Back.

1 fryer, about 4 to 5 lb., cut up into 8 pieces, reserve the wings for another use
4 stalks celery, divided, ribs removed, 2 cut into 1/4 inch pieces, 2 whole
4 large carrots, 2 peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces, 2 whole, halved
1 large onion, cut in half
2 to 3 cloves garlic, smashed or finely minced
8 cups chicken stock, plus more if needed
2 tbsp. butter
12 oz. evaporated milk
1/4 c. AP flour
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf, optional
1/4 c. fresh parsley, roughly chopped
SPST ( Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)
Olive Oil for drizzling

Place the washed chicken in a large heavy bottomed pot  and fill with stock just to cover.
Add whole celery, halved carrots, onion, and garlic and bay leaf.
Bring up to a boil and skim the top of the stock, repeat as necessary.
Reduce heat to medium and cook chicken until cooked through, about 35 minutes, give or take.
While chicken cooks, prepare the dumpling mixture. Time it to be near the end of the cooking process.
Once chicken is cooked through, carefully lift from liquid and set aside on a plate or platter.  Make sure you have enough space to debone.  When cool enough to handle, remove skin, gristly parts and meat from bones in good sized pieces.
Remove stock and strain off, leaving only the flavorful stock to add back to cooking vessel.
Skim off excess fat.*
In the original cooking vessel, heated to medium, add the butter and two turns of the pan of olive oil.
Add chopped carrots and celery.
Add thyme sprigs.
Cook for several minutes until fragrant.
Sprinkle in flour and whisk or stir vigorously with fork or wooden spoon.
After about 2 minutes, gradually add stock back to the pot, whisking or stirring to incorporate.
Bring up to a boil, then reduce to a rolling simmer.
Add milk and stir well.
Check seasonings and SPST as needed.
Here is where you add your dumplings. Dumplings recipe below.
Allow to simmer until cooked through, about 12 minutes or more.
Re-add chicken by sliding back into pot on one side, then stir to distribute.
Simmer all items together for several more minutes to marry the dish.
Garnish with fresh parsley and thyme.
Makes about 10 servings.

*This portion will benefit from refrigeration for a period of about 20 minutes to help the excess fat solidify and can be easily removed. This is not required but optimal, if you have the time.

 1 1/2 c. AP flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. roughly chopped parsley
1/3 c. milk or stock, more if needed
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Combine flour, baking powder and salt until well blended.
Cut in butter and olive oil, until it takes on a crumb-like texture.
Add remaining ingredients and stir until just blended and completely moistened, careful not to over mix, unless you like a tougher dumpling.
The dough will be a little sticky and that's okay.
Using one side of a tablespoon, make quenelle shaped dumplings and add to simmering stock one by one.
Dipping the spoon  in hot water before each dumpling will help with sticking.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Bacon Cheeseburger Garlic Bread w/ Fresh Dill

Give your everyday garlic bread loaf a kick in the pants and have the hungry brood ready for seconds. This recipe came to me one day on the fly, tired and weary from the day's schedule, but needing to get something on the plate.  I originally planned on doing a pasta bake, my go to, especially for Monday nights, to serve with the bread, but inspiration hit and I just put the cooked pasta in the fridge and swapped out the cheeses for an incredible meal to be served with a green salad or corn with minimal cleanup!
I love  a good burger and this recipe hits all those notes and even mimics some good 'ole pickles, by sprinkling with some fresh dill!

1 1/2 lb. cooked ground beef or desired protein
Precooked bacon, 3 oz.
1 loaf garlic bread
Slices Colby Jack cheese, 6 to 8 oz.
Fresh Dill, pulled apart with fingers

Place loaf in a cold oven and heat to 375*F.
By the time the oven has reached the desired temperature, it's time to remove from oven and begin assembling the deliciousness.
Start with ground beef topping.  I simply layer the toppings evenly across the warmed garlic bread with the torn dill across the top.  Of course, if you are not partial to pickles, you may want to omit it.   A nice fresh herb should be used in place though, for added freshness and brightness.
Place in  oven and finish baking until golden and melty.
Slice across the loaves to serve! 
For a little variety you can add or subtract the proteins/veggies like sausage and peppers,mushrooms and carmelized onions, lamb and mint, etc... Have fun with it!

Say Cheese! Balls

Until a recent request from my brother in law, I hadn't made a cheese ball since that time, way back when, and by that I mean high school, maybe college.  I had forgotten how delicious an orb of various cheeses, tangy, nutty, creamy and rich, sharp and mild, crumbled and spreadable could be.  I am glad I still have it in me and jumped to the call of presenting well.
The cheeses I chose for this decadent and toasty 'smear campaign' had to hit all the right notes.  It had to have body and melding flavors, some soft, some pungent, some distinct, some mild and just going with flow.  With that in mind I chose Sharp and Mild Cheddar, Vermont White Cheddar, Blue, Havarti and of course cream cheese as the base.  I also included some drained and pressed out pineapple to add contrast and texture, along with a very subtle and welcome sweetness.
 This recipe made for two very good sized cheese balls,  about 3 lbs. each, perfect for the upcoming occasions of Turkey Day and when Ole Saint Nick comes to town.  Heck, it's great just to have to snack on at home and when "Netflix and Chilling" or checking out the new Disney Subscription.
You may also divide the cheese mixture into 2 to 4 smaller balls and roll in different coatings like buttery crackers, fresh chopped herbs or a different type of nut, even dried fruits or shredded cheese!  The flavor course will be much better when you allow the flavors to marry, while chilling in the fridge!  Don't forget about the upcoming St. Patricks Day, Socials, Potlucks,  Spring Break, Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day...there's always a reason and season for 'cheesin!

4- 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
2 pkg. Neufchatel, or reduced fat cream cheese
8 oz. EACH, Sharp Cheddar, Extra Sharp Cheddar and Cheddar Cheese Trio
4 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
4 oz. Havarti, shredded
2/3 c. crushed pineapple in natural juices, well drained, reserving 2 tbsp. of juice
2/3 c. mayonnaise or sour cream
1/4 c. fresh Dill, torn or rough chopped
2 tbsp. grated onion, with juice
1/2 tsp. EACH, onion powder and garlic powder
2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
8 oz.  Pecan Halves, toasted and rough crushed
SPST (Salt and Pepper to Suit Taste)

Bring the cream cheeses up to room temperature.
Combine all ingredients except the pineapple, Cheddar cheeses, blue cheese and pecans (or whatever coating you choose) nuts or herbs in a large bowl or in your stand mixer, which makes it hella easier to blend.
After the bulk of the ingredients have blended until smooth, add the Cheddar cheeses, pineapple and blue cheese crumbles, blending until just combined and distributed throughout. Turn off mixer.
Toast the Pecans in a dry hot pan, tossing frequently as not to burn or scorch, until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Set aside to cool and crush unevenly with rolling pin or something solid.
Place crushed nuts into shallow vessel with lots of room to shake around.
Pour cheese out onto spacious surface and divide into 2 piles, on separate sheets of plastic wrap. 
 Shape the cheese into ball using the wrap as the barrier for your hands, then one at a time, turn out into crushed nuts and coat as desired.
Remove and place onto a clean piece of plastic wrap, gathering up by sides and twist to form a ball shape so it can set.
Place on plate or flat pan, twisted side down.
Repeat with second pile of cheese mixture.
Refrigerate for several hours, allowing the flavors to marry for maximum deliciousness.
Allow to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes or more before serving.
Serve with crackers, veggies, fruit, toast points as desired.
For a fantastic twist on a favorite, melt slices of cheeseball onto nachos or a hot juicy burger for a flavor  and tastebud explosion!
Serves plenty with leftovers, maybe. ;)